Can you get married at home in the UK?

In Weddings by Joni

You can hold a marriage at home in the UK but there are some important restrictions. England and Wales have the same rules but N Ireland and Scotland are different.

This article tells you how to hold the marriage service at your home and answers the most frequent questions asked.  I talk about a home wedding in England and Wales first of all.  Although there are many similarities across the UK some of the rules are different and make home marriages easier in Scotland and N. Ireland so be sure to read about these regions near the end of this post.

For a home wedding you might just plan a reception at home or in the garden after a religious or civil ceremony elsewhere.  This is a lot of work but straightforward.  Here are things to take into account before agreeing to have a wedding at your home.  If you wish to hold the marriage service at your home then read on.

Can you hold a religious marriage ceremony at your home? 

Short answer –no, except in Scotland  If your daughter wants a religious service she must get married in a church, synagogue or other licensed religious building.  Scroll down to see the rules for Scotland.

A minister can be present but the marriage will be a non-religious service called a Civil Ceremony.

Some couples arrange to have a blessing in a religious place of worship soon after their civil ceremony marriage.

For humanist ceremonies scroll down to Scotland and N. Ireland.

Are  English and Welsh marriage laws changing soon?

Stop press: Over the past 5 years there have been several proposals to change the law on outside and humanist weddings in England and Wales so that they mirror the choices that Scotland currently enjoys.  The latest came from Prime Minister May in her final ‘let me leave a legacy’ weeks.  It looks today (September 2019) as if the research group that May set up will announce their findings within two years so there could be a shake-up in the law in 2021. Good news for engaged couples planning a ceremony well in advance.  But at time of writing the old laws still ban outdoor weddings unless a licensed ‘room’ with a roof is available for the legal ceremony. 

Who marries the couple in a civil ceremony?

A Registrar from the local Register Office – note we used to call them Registry Offices but the name has now changed.  You can find your local register office here by inputting your postcode.

A wedding dress blowing in the breeze outdoors
Getting married outdoors in the UK

Can you get married outdoors in the UK?

In England and Wales it is illegal to hold a marriage ceremony in the garden or in any temporary structure.  So in a room in your house is fine but in a tent or marquee is not.  A garden pavilion or garden room is acceptable but not a rose arbour put up for the occasion.  The venue or place of marriage has to be licensed.  It is perfectly legal to get married outside in Scotland.

Why do you need to get married under a roof in England and Wales?

Well, that’s the law.  A roof which cannot be easily removed qualifies the space as non-temporary.  Note that in Scotland you can get married in the open air.

So in those pretty countryside open-air wedding pictures you will always see at the end of the ‘aisle’ a small covered structure.  This will be licensed as the actual marriage venue and will not be removed or shifted to different areas of the grounds between weddings.

Gazebo for a wedding
Except in Scotland wedding venues must have a roof

What paperwork do I need to get a venue licensed for marriages?

  • You need to be the owner or trustee of the property and to give your name, address and a list of any other occupants of the building. 
  • You need to name yourself as the ‘responsible person’ and if possible name a deputy.
  • You will need to specify on a plan exactly which area of your property or garden you wish to licence. 
  • You will need to show that there are no planning restrictions in place which make this use illegal.
  • Have at hand a Fire Risk Assessment which takes into account the number of guests who will be present in the licensed space.
  • The Local Authority may decide to visit your property before granting the licence.
  • It is also worth checking your public liability insurance as well as that of any suppliers who will be working on your premises.

How long does a wedding  venue licence last?

It lasts 3 years but note that N. Ireland can offer a temporary licence -see below.  You should apply for it 12 months before the wedding.  Then if for any reason it is not granted you still have the opportunity of finding another venue.

Can other members of my family get married at my home once I have a licence?

Yes, they  can.  In fact – and here is a good reason to think twice about licensing your home for a marriage in England and Wales – in theory anyone can get married there.  You can only be granted a licence if you agree to allow other people to apply to get married there if they wish.  You will be on a list of local licensed venues.  But see the differences below for N. Ireland and Scotland.

How to give notice for a marriage

The couple needs to carry out all the usual paperwork just as if they were holding the ceremony in a Register Office or a church.  And they can only do this once the wedding venue – your home – is confirmed.  So start this process well in advance.

The couple need to ‘give notice’ of their intention to marry.  They do this at their local Register Office.  They can each give notice at a separate Register Office if they live separately.  The Register Office chosen must be in the Local Authority area where they have resided for at least the previous 7 days.  They do not need to give notice on the same day.  Giving notice usually costs £35 per person.

To give notice they will need:

  • passport plus proof of any change of names
  • birth certificate (in England, Wales and N Ireland they must both be at least 18 years old or have parental permission to marry)
  • proof of address (such as recent utility bill or bank statement)
  • decree absolute or final order if they were previously married (and now divorced)
  • death certificate of their previous spouse if they are widowed
  • details of the licensed or religious venue
  • Special rules apply if one or both of the partners do not have a British passport.

They must both have given notice at least 28 days before the day of their wedding. The register Office will display the notice at their offices during this time.  It is well worth giving notice two or three months in advance in case there are any delays.

Once the couple have given notice they have up to 12 months in which to hold the marriage ceremony.

How to prepare for the Civil Ceremony

  • Book the Registrar who will be coming to your home to marry the couple as soon as possible.  The Registrar will get booked up a long time in advance as he or she will conduct marriages all over the local area including at the Register Office and at licensed venues.

The cost will vary depending on the venue and the day of the week.  From £46 at the local Register Office to around £400 at your home or other licensed venue on the weekend.

  • Find at least two witnesses who will sign on the day.
  • Plan for a private area to be available before the ceremony for the Registrar to talk to the couple.  This should be a quiet room well away from arriving guests and inquisitive children.
  • Delegate someone responsible to take charge of the marriage certificate and keep it safe all day.  Decide when the couple will take charge of it – they may need it when travelling on their honeymoon.

For full details including information for non-standard cases e.g. a partner living abroad see the government guidelines for civil ceremonies here. 

What happens at a Civil Ceremony in the UK?

Register Offices have a set of suggested scripts for marriages.  The couple should take a look online at the suggested scripts from several Register Offices and choose whichever one appeals.  They do not need to register at that office in order to use the script. But they need to make sure their Registrar has a copy of the script at least a couple of weeks in advance of the ceremony.

Here is a wedding service plan with a typical script for a Civil Ceremony – note that the vows must use one of the three optional wordings. 

There are certain parts of the script which are essential – the exchange of vows and the signing of the Register. 

The declaratory words are the phrases in which each partner declares that they are lawfully free to marry.

The contracting words are those in which each states that they take the other as husband or wife.

In addition scripts will include various other elements which can be edited or added in by the couple.

Just before the formal part of the wedding starts the Registrar will spend a few minutes in private with each partner to establish that all the details are correct and to answer any questions.

For the public ceremony, typically the Registrar will introduce themselves, name the couple, greet the guests and confirm that the room or structure has been lawfully sanctioned for holding the marriage.

They will follow the script for the vows and then for any additional elements such as promises, exchange of rings, readings and music.

There must be no religious element to a Civil Ceremony so no readings from a bible, Torah, Koran etc.  And no prayers or hymns.

Even if the promises are made in the open air, the signing of the register by the couple, their witnesses and the Registrar must be done in the licensed structure under a roof.

The Registrar will declare that the couple are now lawfully married.

The couple will normally receive their wedding certificate immediately and then hand it over to a family member or friend for safe keeping.

Is it possible to get married at home in Scotland and N Ireland?

It is more realistic to hold a marriage ceremony at home in Scotland or N. Ireland than in England or Wales because there are some important differences in the laws.

Wedding couple kiss on a loch
You can hold a marriage anywhere, even on a loch, in Scotland

The main differences between marrying in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

No parental permission is required to marry from the age of 16.

There are no residency requirements to marry in Scotland.  The completed notice of marriage can be posted from anywhere in the world to the local Register Office of the area in which the couple intend to hold the marriage service.  There is no need to live in the area at any time between giving notice and actually marrying.

Here is the marriage notice form for getting married in Scotland.  It has some useful notes which are worth studying before completing the form.

Note that for a religious or belief-based ceremony the couple need to collect the Marriage Schedule (the register) in person up to 7 days before the ceremony.  However they do not need to live in the area between collecting the Schedule and getting married.

Marriages can be held anywhere that the person approved to conduct the ceremony agrees to.  So your home should prove no problem.  There is no need to marry under a roof or in a permanent structure.  The couple can marry in the garden, under a rose arbour, in a tent or marquee or in any room in the house itself.  Hillside and loch weddings are popular!

Marriages can be performed by a local Registrar or by an ‘approved celebrant’. This means that the couple can have a religious ceremony or a humanist ceremony at home or wherever the celebrant agrees.  There is no need to marry in a religious building to have a religious wedding.

Every District Registrar holds a list of approved celebrants.

The couple need to return the signed Schedule to the Register Office within 3 days of their marriage whereas the Registrar brings the schedule to the wedding and takes it back to the Office after the signing.

For full and more detailed information about getting married in Scotland you should consult the National Records of Scotland site before making final plans.

A wedding ribbon on a blue metal gate
In N. Ireland you can get a one day marriage venue licence

Get married at home in N. Ireland

The rules are mainly the same as for marrying in England and Wales but there is one very useful difference.  You can apply for a temporary licence to conduct  a marriage at a venue.  That means that you can licence your home for just the day of the wedding.  Unlike in England and Wales there is no need to go onto a public register of licensed marriage venues or to allow other people to marry at your home. Phew!

You can find the full rules and regulations about getting your home licensed to conduct weddings in N. Ireland here.

You cannot have a Civil Ceremony in a religious building and you cannot have a religious ceremony at home.  However, if you want a Humanist ceremony you can use a registered humanist celebrant for your home wedding.

The humanist celebrant has to be over 21 and belong to a recognised humanist society.  He or she can apply for a temporary licence to perform a humanist marriage ceremony.  This means a friend or relative can marry you at home.  Full details of how to get licensed as a Humanist marriage celebrant in N. Ireland can be found here.

You can find the Marriage Notice Form here so you can complete it before taking your documents to the Register Office.

For full details of marrying in N. Ireland read through the government website here

Got a view of the ‘only under a roof’ wedding laws of England and Wales? Leave a comment. I’d love to know how other mothers and daughters feel about this.